I have to admit that it took me a little while to get into this novel, but it was well worth the investment of my time! The blending of historical fact with fiction is Lisa’s strong suit. Creating strong, memorable characters and story lines is her gift.
I am consistently amazed how Lisa Wingate is able to create such fascinating stories based upon little-known historical events, create totally believable life-like, sympathetic characters then, as their stories unfold, make you feel as though you are experiencing the events of their lives right alongside them. At the end of Lisa's novels, I am always saddened that I’ll be losing touch with what have become beloved friends.
Just as her previous New York Times best-selling novel, Before We Were Yours, brought to light a tragic period in our history involving an adoption scandal in Tennessee during the early part of the 20th Century, The Book of Lost Friends was sparked by the discovery of a project to preserve the records of freed slaves desperately seeking family members after the Civil War via letters (advertisements) placed in a magazine called the Southwest Christian Advocate which was circulated throughout the South. The ads were posted on bulletin boards and read at the pulpits of African-American churches in the aftermath of the Civil War. Freed slaves wrote what little they knew of their splintered families in the hopes that someone would help them reconnect with their lost loved ones. Some of these advertisements are included in the novel. The heartwarming stories woven around this theme are written with such compassion, authenticity, love and sincerity!
In 1875, Hannie Gossett is a six-year-old slave child who witnesses her family being sold off by an unscrupulous family member of her plantation owner who thought he was sending them to safety in Texas. As the family is torn apart and sold off, Hannie listens as her mother recites their names, the names of those who took them and where each family member was taken. It is the only record Hannie has of her family. Before leaving her, Hannie is given a gift by her mother that will help her to identify other family members, should she be able to locate them at some future date.
A series of events brings together Hannie, who, as a now freed slave is share-cropping on the plantation where she was raised hoping to one day own the land, Lavinia, the spoiled pampered daughter of Hannie’s former owner, and Lavinia’s creole half-sister, Juneau Jane, as they take on a quest that will affect each of their lives. Their journey is full of misadventure, danger and a series of events which bonds them together in unexpected ways. Along the way, they discover the Lost Friends advertisements. It is a heartrending and emotional story of three young women on an incredible journey.
Bennie Silva is a new teacher working off her student loan debt by teaching in an underprivileged school located in Louisiana in 1987. Unable to motivate her students is a struggle when all that is expected of them is that they just show up at school on a semi-regular basis. Performance is not expected, nor encouraged. Bennie is determined to help her students become excited about learning. She finds a way to involve them in a project that captures their interest, though there are some in the town who feel threatened by the history it brings to light and work against her, making every effort to stop her.
This is the type of story that deserves to be discovered by a new generation of readers as well as longtime lovers of historical fiction. It is captivating and intelligently written. As is not unusual with Lisa’s novels, it teaches, dispenses wisdom, captures your heart and makes you want to strive to be a better person.
Listen, the road seems to admonish. Listen. I have stories.